The Attic: ‘Bates Motel’ Seasons 1-2 Review *SPOILERS*
Welcome to The Attic; we have 12 cabins, 12 vacancies.
As a lifelong fan of Psycho, I was both excited and hesitant to hear that a new series was coming to television based on the characters. My hesitance simply came from a suspicion that anyone could really do the 1960 Hitchcock masterpiece justice. I watched the first season of Bates Motel when it was new, but then sadly life got in the way and I found myself more and more behind on the series as seasons passed me by. Once I heard that this upcoming one (the fifth) would be its last, I decided it was time to power ahead and catch up. While this may be a bit unconventional, I wanted to start reviewing the show with the first two seasons in one article.
Bates Motel introduces us to a young Norman Bates, who has just moved to a new town with his mother, Norma. After the death of Norman’s father, they are trying to start fresh in a new place, and Norma buys an old motel as a way to provide for them. The Seafairer motel is renamed the Bates Motel, and this sets the wheels in motion to create a foundation for one of the greatest horror films of all time. This is no small task, but so far they have done a brilliant job at creating a modern prequel series that allows us to see how Norman became the disturbed man we know him to be.
Norman befriends some local kids at his High School, and even has a bit of a fling with one of the most popular girls around. He makes friends with a sick girl named Emma (Olivia Cooke), and throughout the first two seasons she grows closer to the family. His older brother, Dylan, moves to town and although their relationships are strained, they begin to patch things up. One would think that this is leading to a happier time for them, but it becomes clear early on that just below the surface a pot is beginning to boil.
Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore are brilliant as Norma and Norman Bates, and their chemistry onscreen is palpable. Vera shines in a roll that was originally nothing more than a voice in his head in Psycho. Her love for him is uncomfortable from the start, and you will find yourself squirming more and more, but this is the backbone to the story and is a necessary evil we all saw coming. Having little else in life, the two lean on each other so much that their bond has clearly passed a healthy line. They profess how much they need each other and the sweet sentiments will leave you cringing in a magnificent way. I can’t take my eyes off this show whenever it is on and these two are the ones to thank for that.
If you had told me years ago that the little kid from Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was going to play a young Norman Bates I would have laughed in your face. But young Freddie has grown up, and everything from his build to his smile just screams Norman. I feel like I am watching a very young Anthony Perkins so often that I find myself just shaking my head. This is no 1998 Psycho remake where Vince Vaughn simply tries to copy him as much as possible. Don’t get my wrong, I love Vince, but that “remake” was a disaster. Freddie takes Perkins’ magic and makes it his own, while remaining true to the history of the character. In short, he strikes a brilliant balance.
Sheriff Alex Romero is one of my favorites, and I love the way his character has evolved. In the beginning of the first season, he is a strong adversary of Norma’s but as time goes on and he learns more about them, he becomes more of an ally. Even going so far as to protect them when he learns they have committed crimes in self defense. Alex Romero is played by Nestor Carbonell, who I have adored since I saw him as Richard in Lost. It is funny how this show makes me love anyone that cares about and protects the Bates family, despite what you know they have and will do later.
Norman’s older brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot), is a fantastic addition as well. I love the balance he provides, because despite the fact that he gets into trouble, he remains the “normal” anchor in the family and I like watching how he has grown a soft spot for his younger brother.
The music for Bates Motel is composed by Chris Bacon, who has worked on blockbuster films like King Kong and The Dark Knight. He has stayed very true to Psycho, creating music that reminds me so much of the film’s that I wondered if they sampled some out of it. It just wouldn’t feel the same without the right music, and Chris has done a wonderful job setting that mood. It just sounds like Psycho, and I am grateful for that.
I love the way Bates Motel drip-feeds you little glimpses of Norman’s “blackouts” more and more. He begins to hear Norma speaking to him, and telling him to do awful things even while she is still alive, which I wasn’t expecting. But the most fascinating one so far is when she comes to him during a polygraph test. The whole town is shaken after Norman’s teacher, Miss Watson, is found murdered in her home. After that, a suspect is arrested and all seems to be getting back to normal for everyone except for Norman. He had gotten attached to Miss Watson and is taking her death much harder than anyone expected.
Over time we learn that he not only slept with her the night of her death, but he remembers killing her as well. Norman tells Norma, with tears in his eyes as he is realizing that he is capable of awful things. Sheriff Romero learns that Norman slept with her that night and demands a polygraph be taken in secret, to learn whether he put the wrong man in jail or not. Norman is being asked the standard questions and then it comes “did you kill Blair Watson?” and in an instant, he begins to hallucinate Norma sitting right next to him. She calmly tells him that he didn’t do it, she did, but it must be kept a secret. In a flash Norman’s stress is released and he almost smiles, he can answer truthfully that he didn’t do it. He passes the test with no problem, and this is the first time that we start to really see the Norman Bates as the man we know he will become.
Once alone in the chair, he slowly raises his eyes and stares into the camera, reminiscent of the last scene in Psycho when Perkins delivers that chilling smile. Freddie nails it in this moment, and I got chills watching him transform from a troubled young man into the character I love to fear.
So far, Bates Motel has far exceeded my hopes for the series. I plan on powering ahead because, as I recently learned, season 5 of will actually showcase Marion Crane. I have no idea how that will play out in terms of whether it will be the finale or earlier on, but I need to catch up immediately. Time for season 3…